By Andrew England in Doha
Published: December 3 2007 17:33 | Last updated: December 3 2007 17:33
Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, on Monday told Gulf Arab leaders he sought greater economic and security ties with the region. Absent from his remarks, however, was the one issue that alarms the region most: nuclear ambitions.
Addressing the opening of the Gulf Co-operation Council summit in Doha, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad proposed a regional security pact, joint investments in gas and oil projects, free trade and sharing of Iran’s knowledge in “energy and technology”.
“Any security problem that could happen in one country will have a negative effect on the security of all countries,” he said.
It was not the first time Iran has put forward such initiatives, but the fact that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was given the chance to speak, and was the first Iranian leader to attend a GCC summit, was significant and highlighted Gulf efforts to reduce regional tensions.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar’s emir, underlined the Gulf states’ concerns about Iran’s standoff with the United States when he mentioned the Iranian nuclear programme among “serious crises”.
“These situations cannot endure more pressures, otherwise they will be out of control,” he said in his opening speech. “We wish at the same time that all those concerned with regional and international affairs reconsider their positions before it is too late.”
The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait – all important US allies. They worry about Iran’s influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, but also fear any military confrontation between Washington and Tehran would spill over into their booming region.
Last month Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said GCC states had put proposals to Tehran a year ago to set up a joint uranium enrichment plant outside the Middle East. At the time, Prince Saud said Iran had yet to respond to the offer, which was a regional bid to defuse the nuclear crisis.
GCC leaders ordered a study into the possibility of the group developing its own civilian nuclear programme at their last summit in a move seen to be driven by the need to respond to Iran’s atomic ambitions. That study is expected be on the agenda of the Doha meeting.
Other issues on the agenda include plans for GCC monetary union by 2010. This looks increasingly difficult as the region is beset by high inflation and speculation that some states may revalue currencies pegged to the weak US dollar.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007